American prosecutors have said they will continue to pursue Roman Polanski now that the Swiss authorities have refused to extradite him to the United States. Good luck to them. My hunch is that Polanski will never again risk visiting a country that has extradition treaties with the United States. That means we will not get to see him at next year’s Bafta awards, but I dare say most of us will find ways of living with that.
How did we get here? Roman Polanski performed wicked sexual acts with a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles 33 years ago, and was indicted on charges of rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, a lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor. Polanski pleaded not guilty to all charges, but later, as a result of a plea bargain, pleaded guilty to one charge of statutory rape.
Polanski clearly deserved to be punished. But he wasn’t: he skipped bail and fled the United States. If you like, he got away with it. Does his victim, Samantha Geimer, now lie awake at night wondering when the Polish dwarf is going to come crashing through her bedroom window? No. This week she welcomed the Swiss decision. “I hope that the District Attorney will now close the case and get it over once and for all,” she said.
Mrs Geimer has three children and you can see that she might not feel at all happy at the prospect of more slavering publicity. For some time now, at any rate, she has made it clear that she wants the case to be dropped. This was an important consideration with the Swiss authorities. No doubt Polanski’s lawyers – and Polanski’s money – have influenced Mrs Geimer’s approach to the case, but isn’t that what lawyers and money are for?
In the end, though, what really matters here is the argument from compassion. At this distance in time – a third of a century – mercy should be extended to Polanski, who is obviously no longer a threat to anyone, except perhaps through his films. To bang him up now would be cruel and vengeful. It is time to leave Polanski to his Maker, from whom he can expect perfect justice and perfect mercy.
But aren’t we on the slippery slope here? Where might this sort of clemency end? What about Nazi fugitives from justice? Would it be right to show mercy to them also, to leave even them to their Maker? Yes. It serves nobody’s interest to have a 90-year-old in the dock haggling with a 90-year-old witness about events that occurred 70 years ago.
And paedophile priests? In the case of crimes committed decades ago they, too, should be left to their Maker. But here one must acknowledge a double standard. If Roman Polanski had been Fr Polanski and had been wanted for having performed lewd acts with a minor 33 years ago, he would have had many fewer defenders than Roman Polanski, and my bet is that he would have been extradited.
But “Fr Polanski” deserves just as much mercy as Roman Polanski, at least from the secular. In the end the case for mercy applies to all.